Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kindle vs the iTunes App Store (From an Author's View)

I'm a small publisher with a PR budget in the low three digits, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to get my books discovered by people who will enjoy them. My first book, Emperor Dad, was in fact, released as an ebook first, with a few family and friends sales, but it never achieved any great sales. When I finally broke down and decided that self-publishing was better than un-published, I produced trade paper editions. Awards came and I have refined my production skills so I now have three, (in a few weeks four) titles out that are getting very nice reviews. Still, sales are not large, and I'm on the lookout for ways to get my books in front of people's eyes.

In December, I discovered that it wasn't terribly hard to put out a book on Amazon's Kindle. I buckled down and converted Emperor Dad to Kindle format. I uploaded it to their system and waited. Nine months later, zero sales.

I wish I had a Kindle just so I could see if the book was really in their system or not. But I've never even seen one. Nobody I know has one of the bookreaders. Supposedly there are hundreds of thousands of them in existence, but I can't afford one. I suspect, with no evidence, that Amazon makes it a whole lot easier to discover a big name bestseller than it is to find something by a small publisher.

July. Graham Perks of Touch Tomes, who dove head-first into the iPhone App business, had talked to me earlier and now suggested publishing one of my titles as an iTunes App book. With my history of experimenting with ebook sales, it was a no-brainer to hand him the Emperor Dad files and let him run with it. In just a few days he had the book encapsulated into an iPhone App and formatted quite nicely. Today is the third day it's been out for sale. Early figures show twelve sales over two days.

Kindle: Nine Months, zero sales. App Store: two days, twelve sales.

It's the same book. It's the same non-existent PR campaign.

From an author's perspective, the iTunes App store is a great place to be. Think about it. Kindle has (in July) 140,000 titles to a customer base of supposedly 300,000 readers. Not all of those are fiction either. The iPhone user base growing rapidly, with supposedly 10 million units out there by the end of the year, and the App Store is very popular. And the books? 158. I just checked. Hey, as a reader, I might like the Kindle catalog, but as an author, this is the kind of front-facing, front of the store, prime exposure I'd never get on my budget. With millions of people coming to visit.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Emperor Dad is on the iPhone App Store

As I mentioned in my Twitter back in July, I was looking forward to this, being in the company of Burroughs and Swift. Emperor Dad has been published in a number of formats, including two paper editions, PDF, Kindle and now this, an iPhone App. It's a great experiment to see what works and what doesn't.

The big advantage I see here is that Emperor Dad has a chance to show up. A corner bookstore will have thousands of books on its shelves. PDF ebooks are spread out all over cyberspace and only the experienced know where to look. The Kindle system has 125000 titles for it's 250000 Kindle owners. The iPhone App store has about 200 titles for a million iPhone users, with that expecting to grow to ten million iPhone users this year. And one thing I have learned from experience this month -- when two or more iPhone users get together, the first thing they do is talk about the Apps they have downloaded.

So when I was approached by an App developer with the idea of publishing one of my books, I was ready. I had previously gone through the process of converting the text to the cut-down HTML that Kindle format uses, so all I had to do was send him the file.

The App store is mostly $0.99 cent editions of public domain books, and a handful of current titles at higher prices. Go. Tap. Download. It's easy to find. This ought to be an interesting experiment. If it works, I'd have no problem putting other titles out this way as well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Memorable Chore

A Memorable Chore

Last Sunday, after church, everyone had left, someone had to get the canoe back to the friendly neighbor who had loaned it to us. It was a short paddle across the little inlet shared by four or five houses, so I volunteered. Sissy the Dog followed me to the back door but I kept her inside.

I hadn't been down to the dock this whole trip due to my knee problems, and the stair way was long and steep. However, I told myself, if I just took it slow I'd have no problems.

The second step was a doozy. Built of two-by-six boards, thirty years of weathering had decayed either the board or the support and I fell through to my waist in splintered lumber.

A minor scrape on my left leg, a twisted ankle on my right, and an elevated heart rate left me wondering for a moment how I would extricate myself.

Unknown to me at the time, Sissy the Dog had been watching all this time and hurried off to pull a Lassie. She went to the den where Mary Ann was working on the family photos she took at the funeral. Sissy frantically tried to get her attention. Mary Ann was aware of how she had been following me around and tried to reassure Sissy that I was okay. I had just gone down to the dock and I'd be right back.

I was in pain, but as I climbed out of the hole and checked to see if I could walk on the injured ankle, I decided it was minor and ... cautiously ... went on down the steps.

The dock had been the location of many a good time in the past three decades and it was sad to see what age and weather had done to it in these past few years as age had confined my father to the house.

In the middle was a nice fiberglass and aluminum canoe. I untied the rope and eased down as well as my knee let me. It wasn't good enough. I overbalanced and over we went.

The first thought that came to mind was the canoe. It was filled to within an inch. Would it sink? It wasn't mine and this water dropped off to 90 feet deep within just a few yards. I did not want to lose it. I grabbed the thick yellow poly rope and managed to lash it to the dock. Then I could think about how to get myself out of my fix.

I was inside the U formed by the dock and probably no one could see me. But, with my accumulated body fat, I was hardly in danger of sinking. I looked in my shirt pocket. I had left my iPhone up at the
house, joking about it as I walked past Mary Ann on the way out. But
my earphones were still there, sloshing in my pocket. My wallet and business card case were soaked as well. Oh, well. I needed to print up a fresh batch of cards anyway.

But I did need to get out of the water. I remembered a ladder on the other side of the dock, but as soon as I swam around, I realized that the rungs had rotted away long ago. I looked around at the neighbors' docks, but I didn't see any obvious ladders.

I'd have to climb ashore. Not easy. This wasn't a beach. It was nearly a vertical drop off and I was within reach of the yucca and sawgrass before I felt mud below my feet. It was like climbing a cliff. The grass was my hand grip, and there were rocks to climb. Other than a pear of grass in my right eye, I got out with no problem.

But standing on shore with the lake water draining out of my pockets, I still had that canoe to deal with. I toyed with bailing it out, then decided to just pull it up onto the dock. That was surprisingly easy. My canoe at home is much heavier than this one.

"Are you through with that?" It was the owner, calling from across the water.

He made his way around the shore and we chatted about my parents, the fishing, other neighbors and things. Nice guy. Lots of stories. Finally, he paddled his way home and I sloshed my way back up the stairs. At least I had a story to tell.

Henry Melton Science Fiction
Phil 4:8

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Solomon Gallery

My sister Mary Solomon, the primary caregiver during my parents last years, is an artist that has made a name for herself here in Amarillo. Yesterday, we went by her gallery and I took a snapshot or two.

It's a lovely place, and over the years, I've marveled at how her price tags keep on going up. She has birds and wildlife, flowers, landscapes and quite a few portraits. In recent years she painted a number of the horse statues that grace public buildings all over Amarillo. If you're in the area, you owe it to yourself to visit her at the The Galleries at Sunset Center.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mary Evelyn Melton 1920-2008

Mary Evelyn Melton of Lake Tanglewood died Sunday, August 3, 2008.

Born Mary Evelyn Wheeler, in Cooper, Texas on March 4, 1920. Evelyn graduated salutatorian in Waynoka, Oklahoma and eloped with Gene Melton August 21, 1938. Starting out in the Depression, and in Gene's early years with Santa Fe, she lived in many towns in Texas and Oklahoma and then during WWII when he was in the Navy, she followed his postings to Chicago, Brooklyn and Richmond, California when she could, holding jobs with a Chicago insurance company and back in Amarillo, the Potter County Clerk. Times were hard. After the war, they even lived in a railroad bunk car and tried to make a living on a farm outside of Siloam Springs, Arkansas which she had scouted out and purchased by herself in the years before the war. Eventually settling in Amarillo, she concentrated on raising her four children. In uncertain times, she took on a job with the Amarillo Bi-City County Health Department, rising to Administrative Secretary until she retired in 1980. They moved to Lake Tanglewood in 1979 when Gene retired from Santa Fe.
Able to do many things, she raised her family with strong values in the Church, and with an appreciation of music. Forever impressed by the many people who had gone out of their way to befriend her in the early years when times were hard, she in turn made friends with everyone she met, all her life long, learning about their families and honestly caring about their lives. There were no little people in her world, and in turn, she was beloved by them all.
She was preceeded in death by her husband of 69 years, Eugene James "Gene" Melton, Jr., her parents and younger sister Louise Hurd.
Evelyn is survived by her sister Ellen Joy Rook of Amarillo, her four children: Roger Melton and wife Linda of Rescue California, Mary Solomon and husband Walter of Lake Tanglewood, Henry Melton and wife Mary Ann of Hutto Texas, and Martha Barnett and husband Hugh of Dallas Texas. She had 10 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren.

As Deaths go, it was good

As Deaths go, it was good
The primary focus for my mother's life had always been her family. That was why we all knew that it was important for my brother to make it all the way from California, and when it looked like her health was going down hill rapidly, he looked for an earlier flight and had to run for it, but he made it in last night.

The word had gone out, and last night the little hospice room was packed with relatives. Three of the four kids, the local grandkids and great-grandkids were all there and everybody had a chance to greet her, and in spite of the pain medicines she was able to talk with us all. It was quite a party, one that she'd been looking forward to for some months, although maybe not in this setting. At one point, she asked, "Who's taking pictures?" Cell phones came out and clicked away.

Then, shortly before midnight, my brother arrived and they had time to talk. Not long after that, surrounded by her loving family, exhaustion and medication took their toll and she went to sleep after a very good, long, day.

She never really woke up the next morning, and her decline ended in the afternoon, peacefully.

Henry Melton Science Fiction
Phil 4:8

Saturday, August 02, 2008

House plus Ghosts

House plus Ghosts
I don't really mean classic "ghosts". Even though my father died in the next room, I haven't any belief that he's haunting the place. I was there when he died and I'm quite confident he left early. He had other things to do and moved on. Plus, my mother is still alive, at least for awhile, over at the hospice. And certainly Sissy the Dog is alive and well back in Hutto. No, the "ghosts" that I'm talking about are really parts of the house itself. I can't open the front gate without glancing around the yard to see where Sissy is, although I know she's 500 miles away. There's Daddy's wooden cane leaning up against the window sill, and Momma's painting still hung over the couch. The whole den area is Daddy's. I remember his carefully crafted drawings of it, when he was still planning its construction. Certainly things have changed. Some of the most important furniture went to make Momma's assisted living apartment into a special home-y place for her.

But the house is static. It doesn't change a whisper between visits. The signs of life I see are just leftovers--ghosts from times loved, but now ... gone.

Henry Melton Science Fiction
Phil 4:8

Sitting up with Mother

Sitting up with Mother
I think I feel rather numb, here at one thirty in the morning, sitting beside her bed in room 115 at the hospice. She has to be doped with morphene to be able to breathe without excessive pain. As it is, she is still moaning from some discomfort every minute or so. It was just thirty-some hours ago, five hundred miles away back home that I talked to her on the phone and heard the labored breathing and felt the fear under her usual desire for all us kids to come visit. She made light of it, as she often does, but she said it was important that we come talk to her. "Not that I'd have anything to say."

But twelve hours after that, word came. She had taken a turn for the worse. Maybe we should come. In the time it took to pack the car for a possibly indefinite stay and to drive from Hutto to Amarillo, we were no longer thinking in terms of years and months. Calculations about travel times for my brother in California have gotten much more critical. Will a day and a half from
now be too late?

Henry Melton Science Fiction
Phil 4:8